Sitting Invercargill councillor Nigel Skelt recently resigned from the city’s stadium after 24 years. As Stewart Sowman-Lund reports, it came just weeks after he was accused of sexual harassment by an 18-year-old former employee.
A current Invercargill city councillor was given a formal warning over alleged sexual harassment of a teenager, just weeks before his decision to step down from a senior job at the city’s stadium.
Nigel Skelt, 65, resigned as general manager of Stadium Southland in April after 24 years with the venue. An official statement from the ILT Stadium Southland Board said Skelt was retiring “on medical grounds and personal reasons with immediate effect”.
Skelt, who also holds a position on the Invercargill Council, having first been elected in 2019, would not be giving up his seat at the council table.
Documents released to The Spinoff under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act reveal Skelt faced accusations of sexual harassment from an 18-year-old employee at Stadium Southland earlier this year.
In a February 17 letter sent to Stadium Southland, the employee said that she was very excited about starting her new job, however “during my [time] working at the stadium there were a number of incidents with Nigel Skelt that made me feel uncomfortable and I believe constitute sexual harassment”.
It included alleged comments such as Skelt calling her a “bikini and beach type of girl” and suggesting she would be keen to participate in naked jelly wrestling. On another occasion, he told customers that she was “very good” at jelly wrestling.
The woman claimed that when she was alone with Skelt at the office, he told her a story and, in the process, “walked over and rubbed up against my arm” until she shifted away in her chair. An hour later, Skelt called her into his office and instructed her to sit in his chair while he knelt next to her. The woman wrote that he then showed her a confidential presentation and spoke about tuatara reproducing. She remained in his chair for 40 minutes before returning to her desk.
The Spinoff understands all of these events took place during a single work shift.
These comments and actions left the employee in tears and made her feel unsafe returning to work. She subsequently resigned.
Further documents show that Invercargill mayor Nobby Clark was made aware of the incidents a couple of days later. In an email dated February 19, he described the issue as a “stadium management issue”, however agreed to look into the allegations himself due to his role as the city council’s representative on the stadium trust. “I take such allegations seriously,” Clark said in the message. On February 21 he told an unidentified person that the former employee had done a “brave thing by standing up” and he wanted to make her aware that she’d be “embraced and safe in the future”.
By February 24, Clark and the stadium’s board chair had devised a compensation package for the ex-employee that included a $3,000 lump sum to cover lost income, four weeks of paid counselling with a qualified counsellor and the potential for re-employment at the stadium or a different position with the Invercargill Licensing Trust.
Subsequent emails show that the woman did not want to accept the offer of a new job, saying she would not feel comfortable working at the stadium again and nor did she wish to take up a role in hospitality. She was also worried that any new role would simply have been created to “make up for” what had happened, though Clark denied this.
In an email a few days later, Clark pledged to monitor Skelt’s behaviour going forward. “Nigel will be monitored and formally warned – you have my word on that,” he said.
That formal warning came on March 9 in a two-page letter which noted that Skelt’s behaviour was “inappropriate and can not be repeated”. It also said that while Clark believed there was “an element of ‘he said / she said’”, Skelt had admitted his words were “not appropriate”.
The letter added: “I need to advise that any repeat behaviour could put your employment at risk. As a commitment to [redacted’s] parents, Stadium Board members will monitor the role of Managers at the Stadium, and encourage care in their interface with all staff.”
Skelt was also told that the culture he had created at the stadium had “everyone well connected and supported with a less formal roles and structure focus” but that this brought with it a risk that certain comments from senior managers could “have a different impact on staff”.
The same letter confirmed a settlement that included the cash payment for “pain and suffering” along with counselling and the monitoring of managers to “ensure appropriate behaviour is occurring and any inappropriate behaviour is discouraged”. A confidentiality arrangement was also agreed to, noting that “issues do leak and where that occurs, our collective response will be ‘I can’t comment’.”
Just over a month later, on April 17, it was reported by local media that Skelt had resigned from Stadium Southland. At the time, board chairman Alan Dennis said: “Nigel has contributed significantly to both the venue and the city in his tenure at ILT Stadium Southland. The board would like to thank Nigel for his 24 years of service to the Stadium and wishes him well in his retirement.”
The Spinoff’s request for official information did not return any messages from Skelt himself. However, a council spokesperson noted that all documentation “up to the end of March 2023” had been provided.
Skelt is a second term councillor, first elected in 2019 under former mayor Tim Shadbolt. In last year’s local election, he returned the highest voting numbers for any council candidate, but was overlooked for the deputy mayor’s position in favour of Tom Campbell. In 2018, he was awarded a New Zealand Order of Merit for services to badminton.
Clark told The Spinoff he had “no comments to make” and a call to Skelt went unanswered.